Mayan Orange Terracotta Bowl

SKU PF.4552

500 AD to 1000 AD


4″ (10.2cm) high





Gallery Location



The Maya were deeply concerned with the afterlife, which they regarded as real as the material world. The Under and Over Worlds, (Heaven and Hell) were accessible to those who knew how to “unlock” the secret, either through ritual or through “passageways”, such as caves or standing bodies of water. The Maya king was considered a semi-divine being, and was probably trained by priests or Shamans to perform vision quests. In order to be ready for the quest, a king would fast and remain abstinent before a bloodletting ceremony where he would perforate his penis. This would induce a hallucinatory state, encouraging visions of the spirit world. This very lovely bowl shows five seated males, each contained within an ovoid panel painted indigo or black. It is likely the figure is the same man, probably a king or nobleman, seen in different stages of a ritual act or courtly ceremony. In each, he seems to be in vigorous dialogue with an unseen entity. His mood and demeanor change quickly, like an actor switching emotions through body language. He is at once wary, aggressive, conciliatory and noble, all within a short context. These “portholes” allow us a privileged look into the life and character of a powerful Maya personage; as if through the magic of visual art we can see into the secrets of a great civilization's past.

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